The Obama administration signaled continued commitment to advanced biofuels research and fuel supply diversification in the President’s FY 2014 budget proposal, released this week. From the proposed budget:
The Budget continues to promote fuel supply diversification by providing $282 million at DOE to develop and demonstrate conversion technologies to produce cellulosic ethanol and other advanced biofuels, such as algae-derived biofuels and “drop-in” replacements for diesel and jet fuel, for civilian and military uses.
As the U.S. Navy works to diversify its fuel supply (partly through advanced biofuels) and deploy a “Great Green Fleet” in 2016, it should coordinate with ongoing efforts at the Department of Energy. By doing so, the Navy could strive to reduce costs, avoid redundancies and drive appropriate technological advancements.
For context, the Navy’s biofuel purchase for its 2012 "Great Green Fleet" demonstration, pictured above, carried a price tag of $26 per gallon in 2011, down from $424 a gallon in 2009.
Photo: The Military Sealift Command fleet replenishment oiler USNS Henry J. Kaiser delivers a 50-50 blend of fuel to the guided-missile cruiser USS Princeton during the "Great Green Fleet" demonstration. Courtesy of Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Andrew M. Jandik and the U.S. Navy.
Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, likely surprised many when he said that the biggest long-term security challenge in the Pacific is climate change.
Bryan Bender of the Boston Globe reported the statements on Saturday. Here is an excerpt from his article:
Navy Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III, in an interview at a Cambridge hotel Friday after he met with scholars at Harvard and Tufts universities, said significant upheaval related to the warming planet “is probably the most likely thing that is going to happen . . . that will cripple the security environment, probably more likely than the other scenarios we all often talk about.’’
“People are surprised sometimes,” he added, describing the reaction to his assessment. “You have the real potential here in the not-too-distant future of nations displaced by rising sea level. Certainly weather patterns are more severe than they have been in the past. We are on super typhoon 27 or 28 this year in the Western Pacific. The average is about 17.”
Locklear said his Hawaii-based headquarters — which is assigned more than 400,00 military and civilian personnel and is responsible for operations from California to India, is working with Asian nations to stockpile supplies in strategic locations and planning a major exercise for May with nearly two dozen countries to practice the “what-ifs.”
Photo: The Military Sealift Command fleet replenishment oiler USNS Laramie refuels the amphibious assault ship USS Peleliu on March 3, 2013, which is supporting maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the Middle East and North Africa. Courtesy of Petty Officer 3rd Class Michael Duran and the U.S. Navy.
Natural resource and environmental issues have gained more attention from the national security and foreign policy communities in recent years– from concerns related to the U.S. rare earth supply chain to opportunities that might accrue from America’s growing abundance of natural gas. Which ones might get pressing attention in 2013? Here’s a list of the top U.S. policy trends I’ll be watching in 2013, in no particular order.
Yesterday, Admiral Samuel J. Locklear, Command of U.S. Pacific Command, briefed the Pentagon press corps on the U.S. military’s rebalance to the Asia Pacific. Admiral Locklear spoke specifically to the ongoing territorial disputes in the East and South China Seas, saying, “We call on all the parties there, including the Chinese, to ensure that, as they approach these problems, that they do so in a way that avoids conflict, that avoids miscalculation, that uses the vehicles available today through diplomacy and through those legal forums that allow them to get to reasonable solutions on these without resorting to coercion or conflict.”
Admiral Locklear was also asked about the growing concerns surrounding China’s aircraft carrier. He responded: “My assessment is that if I were China and I was in the economic position that China is in, and I was in a position of where I have to look after my global security interests, I would consider building an aircraft carrier. And I might consider building several aircraft carriers. So the real question is whether we should be concerned with them or not. Like any other country that builds aircraft carriers is whether or not those types of platforms will be successfully integrated into a global security environment that's a peaceful one. And they have a role in maintaining the peaceful global security environment. If the issue is that they are not part of that global security environment, then I think we have to be concerned about them.”
Read the full transcript from the press briefing here.
Photo: Courtesy of Glenn Fawcett and the Department of Defense.
While the United States and other countries in the Western Hemisphere are poised to become major energy producers over the next decade, the shift in global energy production from the Middle East to the Americas will be gradual and stability in the Persian Gulf will remain import to U.S. energy security.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Navy began a demonstration of the “Great Green Fleet,” with three warships and 71 aircraft running on a 50-50 blend of biofuel and conventional petroleum fuel. According to a Reuters report, 90 percent of the biofuel used in the demonstration was refined from cooking oil waste, while the remaining 10 percent was synthesized from algae.
The Navy purchased 450,000 gallons of biofuel last year – the largest purchase to date – to use for the demonstration, at a cost to the Navy of about $26 a gallon (down from $424 gallon for a 20,055 gallon purchase in 2009). When mixed with conventional petroleum for the 50-50 blend, the combined cost to the Navy is approximately $15 a gallon, according to U.S. Navy officials.
The 2012 demonstration is a milestone of the Navy’s broader goal to deploy a “Great Green Fleet” in 2016, a taskforce that will be made up of nuclear-powered vessels, hybrid electric ships and aircraft run on a 50-50 blend of biofuel and petroleum-based fuel.
Photo: The Military Sealift Command fleet replenishment oiler USNS Henry J. Kaiser delivers a 50-50 blend of fuel to the guided-missile cruiser USS Princeton during the "Great Green Fleet" demonstration portion of the international exercise, Rim of the Pacific 2012. Courtesy of Chief Mass Communication Specialist Sam Shavers and the U.S. Navy.
There is a good discussion going on at the National Journal this week on the role of clean energy in powering the U.S. military. The discussion comes on the heels of an effort by the House Armed Services Committee to constrain DOD’s ability to procure biofuels that are not cost competitive with conventional petroleum.
As I noted in the National Journal yesterday, recent congressional activity suggests to me that there is a bit of confusion about the military’s motivations to invest in biofuels. To be clear, these efforts are not, as some headlines suggest, for the sole purpose of combating climate change or promoting eco-friendly interests over military ones. Although being environmentally sustainable and promoting energy security are not mutually exclusive, it is important to understand first and foremost why the military is undertaking this effort: It is all about mission effectiveness and ensuring that our soldiers, sailors and airmen have access to the fuel they need to conduct their operations and protect U.S. interests. (Read more on this point here.)
Nevertheless, the rumblings on Capitol Hill suggest that the role of the military in advancing alternative energy solutions could be a chokepoint for congressional action as both chambers seek to reconcile their own versions of the 2013 Defense Authorization bill. Senator Mark Udall of Colorado weighed in on the National Journal discussion this morning, stating that “As the Senate Armed Services Committee marks up our version of the 2013 defense authorization bill this week, one of the key provisions under scrutiny will be how we approach the military’s use and development of alternative-fuel technologies.”
To that end, the National Journal discussion is an important and welcome one. The country should be having a public debate about the role of the military in advancing alternative energy solutions and clarify any uncertainty or misconceptions about what the military’s motivations are for advancing clean energy solutions. Simply put, it is first and foremost about preserving the military’s ability to protect U.S. national security interests by hedging against uncertainty around petroleum prices and supply, and ensuring that the military has the energy it needs to fuel the force.
Learn more about the challenges DOD faces with sustainable access to petroleum in our 2010 study, Fueling the Future Force.
Follow the National Journal discussion here.
The U.S. Navy does not have the assets it needs to conduct long-term Arctic maritime operations and will have to increasingly rely on the U.S. Coast Guard or international partners in order to accomplish its missions, according to a Sunday report in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
According to the report, the U.S. Navy asked the U.S. Naval War College to conduct a war game in September 2011 to explore what the U.S. Navy would need to execute long-term missions in the High North. “We looked at search and rescue, oil spill response, maritime domain and maritime safety and security issues," Walter Berbrick, assistant research professor in the War Gaming Department at the Center for Naval Warfare Studies, told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. “They were all fictional scenarios.”
The war game’s conclusions, according to the report, may suggest looming challenges for America’s ability to project power and protect its interests in the Arctic. According to the report:
[T]he Navy is not adequately prepared to conduct long-term maritime Arctic operations; Arctic weather conditions increase the risk of failure; and most critically, to operate in the Arctic, the Navy will need to lean on the U.S. Coast Guard, countries like Russia or Canada, or tribal and industrial partners.
To sustain operations in the Arctic, the Navy needs ice-capable equipment, accurate and timely environmental data, personnel trained to operate in extreme weather, and better communications systems. Much of the environmental data will come from other Arctic nations.
The report particularly notes the U.S. Navy’s lack of ice-capable ships. “We have limited capability to sustain long-term operations in the Arctic due to inadequate icebreaking capability," Berbrick told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. "The Navy finds itself entering a new realm as it relates to having to rely on other nations." Interestingly, the report also notes that the Navy (in large part because of its lack of ice-capable ships) will increasingly work with the U.S. Coast Guard, which has had a greater presence in the region as of late. Yet the U.S. Coast Guard’s missions in the Arctic are also undermined by its inadequate icebreaking capability – although there is renewed interest in expanding the U.S. Coast Guard’s icebreaking fleet, which now consists of one active and two inactive vessels.
On Wednesday, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus testified before the Senate Appropriations Sub-committee for Defense about the Navy’s fiscal year 2013 budget request. Discussing the Navy’s energy program, Secretary Mabus emphasized that “we'll maintain our efforts to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and use energy more efficiently. These efforts have already made us better war fighters.” Secretary Mabus added that:
By deploying to Afghanistan with solar blankets to charge radios and other electrical items a Marine patrol dropped 700 pounds in batteries from their packs and decreased the need for risky resupply missions. Using less fuel in theaters can mean fewer fuel convoys which will save lives. For every 50 convoys we bring in, a Marine is killed or wounded. That is too high a price to pay. We already know the reality of a volatile global oil market. Every time the cost of barrel of oil goes up a dollar, it costs the Department of the Navy an additional $31 million in fuel cost. These price spikes have to be paid for out of our operational funds. That means that we sail less, we fly less, we train less. For these reasons, we have to be relentless in our pursuit of energy goals that will continue to make us a more effective fighting force in our military and our nation for energy independence.
Photo: On March 7, 2012, Secretary Mabus testified before the Senate Appropriations Sub-Committee for Defense. Courtesy of Chief Mass Communication Specialist Sam Shavers and the U.S. Navy.